A Pipe Dream No Longer

Virginia Tech develops a water infrastructure database

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According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, there are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the US—events that waste more than 2 trillion gallons of treated drinking water.

Asset management is essential for pipeline integrity. But many water utilities today find themselves limited in their water pipeline asset management by the lack of data to support decision-making and predict life cycle variables. How does a plant operator know what areas of a system to repair or replace without historical information?

Researchers at Virginia Tech aim to alleviate this issue by creating a water infrastructure database. The team has reached out to 500 water utilities and 100 federal facilities to launch a five-year program, funded by the US Bureau of Reclamation, to collect data on the nation’s water systems.

This data, gathered via secured data transfer protocols, will be housed in a database developed by Sunil Sinha, professor in the Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering. Sinha hopes that the Pipeline Infrastructure Database, or PIPEiD, will help advance the understanding of water pipeline performance and will support asset management strategies.

“A basic requirement of an asset management program is knowledge of assets: What is the current state?  What is the level of service? Which are the critical assets?  What is the risk associated with failures? What are the minimum life cycle cost, O&M, CIP, and funding strategies?” explained professor Sinha. “Decisions cannot be made in the absence of knowledge. Knowledge is developed from information on the assets. Information is derived from good quality data, large datasets, and validated models and tools.  PIPEiD will provide the secured and centralized database platform to address all three major infrastructure asset management levels: strategic, tactical, and operational, and for water utilities of all sizes across the country.”

The Bureau of Reclamation hopes that the database will allow it to develop decision-support systems to help evaluate the condition and failure risk profiles of water infrastructure and predict life cycle management needs.

“How a nation operates, retrofits, and expands its pipeline infrastructure networks will help determine the quality of life for future generations and that nation’s competitiveness in the global economy,” said Sinha in a press release. “In order to meet the important challenges of the 21st century, a new paradigm for the planning, design, construction, and management of water pipeline infrastructure is required, one that addresses the conflicting goals of diverse economic, environmental, and societal interests.”

What are your thoughts? Do you see the development of an infrastructure database as a key step forward in understanding asset management? Do you think that it will reduce the number of water main breaks that take place each year? WE_bug_web

Comments
  • Dr Edo McGowan.

    Some thoughts from other sectors. The smaller water companies may see offers to be bought out, often by for-profit conglomerates. In examples from other sectors this may see new owners spend down assets though deferred maintenance and when the system is non-functional, merely walk-away, leaving the public or rate payers with the residue. Other options may include offering not a product (water) but merely a delivery service. In the latter case, (delivery service) this may slip through the barriers set up on water quality and thus product’s liability. If one offered only a service, would product liability status be included or excluded?

    Reply
  • belinda navas.

    Buena idea la gestión por procesos diferenciada que plantea el Sr E. McGowan. Producto agua de calidad vs servicio transporte. Piendo que al concentrar en el operador la responsabilidad abastecer de agua potable, con calidad y en cantidad según legislación, se concentra en una sola figura empresarial esta actividad, facilitando el cumplimiento de indicadores de gestión y asignacion de responsabilidad sobre su práctica empresarial, del sector al que pertenece.

    Reply
    • Laura S.

      Gracias por su comentario, Belinda. Estoy de acuerdo. Distinguir los diferentes papeles–de abastecer el agua (como producto) y transportar el producto (como provisador de servicio)–podria mejorar la gestion dramaticamente.

      Reply
      • Dr Edo McGowan.

        Como se vio en Hartwell, a menos que exista una violación de un estándar numérico, asumiendo la realidad de un estándar “numérico”, otros xenobióticos encontrados ahora en el agua, aunque se sabe que tienen aspectos de salud adversos, la responsabilidad por efectos adversos para la salud sería arrojado al exterior del cierre (puerto seguro) alrededor de compañías de agua privadas. Además, se permiten excedencias momentáneas de un estándar. Por lo tanto, los indicadores patogénicos que se pueden replicar tanto en los sistemas como en el intestino, cuando se exceden, están bien para un proveedor de agua regulada CUP. Esto no dice nada acerca de los falsos negativos que a menudo se encuentran con los indicadores de coliformes únicos como se usan típicamente. Debido a que ahora hay innumerables patógenos que sobreviven pero que no se recogen en pruebas de laboratorio de indicador único, una superación del indicador simplemente muestra que se abrió la puerta del establo, pero ¿qué otra cosa salió del establo? Además, si a usted, como cliente, no le gusta esto, el tribunal dice “muy mal”, no puede cuestionar la capacidad del sistema para suministrarle agua.
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        As seen in Hartwell, unless there is a violation of a numeric standard, assuming the reality of a “numeric” standard, other xenobiotics found now in water, even though they are known to have adverse health aspects, liability for adverse health effects would be shed to outside of the closure (safe harbor) around private water companies. Additionally, momentary exceedences of a standard is permissible. Thus pathogenic indicators that can replicate within systems as well as in the gut, when exceeded are OK for a CUP regulated water provider. This says nothing about false negatives often found with single coliform indicators as typically used. Because there are now myriad pathogens that survive but are not picked up on single indicator lab tests, an exceedence of the indicator merely shows that the barn door was opened, but what else charged out of the barn? Further, if you as a customer don’t like this, the court says too bad, you can not question the capacity of the system to supply you with water.

        Reply

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